Hamilton game is a Wynne-r

KEN FIDLIN -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:41 AM ET

In a hockey world where there existed a shred of sanity, tonight the Maple Leafs would be playing their 82nd and last hockey game of the season. It may or may not have been a game of import but it certainly would have been a game of anticipation, with the Stanley Cup playoffs hiding just around the corner.

In this season of such utter disinterest and disgust, it is hard to even conjure up that annual sense of expectation.

Unlike most of the Saturday evenings this winter, tonight there is an alternative, albeit from an unlikely venue: Ivor Wynne Stadium in Hamilton. It won't be rough and tumble and it won't have you on the edge of your seat, but it will be hockey played in the open air by some guys whose names you might recognize.

Our Game To Give has all the makings of a nice success story, with the exception of a foul weather forecast. They've already sold more than 21,000 tickets in the cozy confines of one of the most intimate football barns in Canada. The promoter, Ken Hadall, working closely with Leafs icon Doug Gilmour, has pledged that every nickel beyond expenses will be shared by two charities, Camp Trillium and to the tsunami relief efforts of the Canadian Red Cross.

The break-even point is about 16,000 tickets sold, so some benefits for both charities are assured. Unfortunately, the big walk-up that had been hoped for is an unlikely possibility because it promises to eb a miserable day, weather-wise. A mix of snow and rain, combined with high winds are not going to make outdoor hockey a very appetizing bit of entertainment, even if Gordie Howe is going to be there to make the ceremonial puck-drop.

On the other hand, it's the only time you're going to get to see Marty Brodeur, Joe Niewendyck, Bryan McCabe, Curtis Joseph, Gary Roberts, Darcy Tucker, Rob Blake, Eric Brewer and Ryan Smyth on the same Canadian ice surface any time soon. And, for the piece de resistance, who wouldn't want to be on hand for the return of Todd Bertuzzi. Okay, not so much.

Even though you'd think that a makeshift rink in the middle of a football field might be a sketchy proposition at this time of year, especially given the weather, that's probably the least of the promoters' problems.

They've laid down a four-inch pad of ice that is being maintained by a refrigeration plant and covered by a thermal blanket to keep the ice surface pristine.

Rain and snow are not a serious problem, given that the ice surface is at such a low temperature. Wind is another matter. Gusty winds on Thursday caused the cancellation of a planned skating party on the ice surface because some areas had melted.

Gilmour has been the catalyst for this event. It was his idea and much of his legwork that has allowed it to happen. It also is his name that has drawn so many from hockey's top-rank of currently locked-out stars to give up their weekend. With plenty of logistical help from the energetic staff at the Hamilton Tiger-Cats, the whole plan came together

Players arrived in the Hamilton area yesterday and were feted to a dinner in Hamilton to be followed by a party at the home of Indianapolis Colts kicker Mike Vanderjagt in nearby Kilbride, north of Burlington.

Obviously this isn't the first attempt at this. The first was a mammoth event for more than 100,000 for a game between the University of Michigan and rival Michigan State; then of course there was the wildly successful Heritage Classic in Edmonton last year.

This one promises to rate a rather minor score on hockey's Richter scale but it is an event with its heart in exactly the right place.

The charitable aspect is paramount and, at $40 a ticket across the board, it's a pretty good bargain for the talent that is lined up.

Given the frustrating circumstances of this lost hockey season, it wouldn't have been a big surprise if the public had said thanks, but no thanks, as they did in Red Deer when some out-of-work NHL players tried to put on an exhibition. Fans only have one card to play in this high-stakes collective bargaining game and it rests in their wallets. In this case, they didn't decide to trump Gilmour and Friends. Will the NHL, if and when it returns, be so lucky?


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